Understanding how pathogens spread and persist in the ecosystem is critical for deciphering the epidemiology of diseases of significance for global health and the fundamental mechanisms involved in the evolution of virulence and host resistance. Combining long-term behavioural and epidemiological data collected in a naturally infected mandrill population and a Bayesian framework, the present study investigated unknown aspects of the eco-epidemiology of simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV), the recent ancestor of HIV. Results show that, in contrast to what is expected from aggressive and sexual transmission (i.e. the two commonly accepted transmission modes for SIV), cases of SIVmnd-1 subtype were significantly correlated among related individuals (greater than 30% of the observed cases). Challenging the traditional view of SIV, this finding suggests the inheritance of genetic determinants of susceptibility to SIV and/or a role for behavioural interactions among maternal kin affecting the transmission of the virus, which would highlight the underappreciated role of sociality in the spread of infectious diseases. Outcomes of this study also provide novel insights into the role of host social structure in the evolution of pathogens.
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